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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

Christie Devon is on a quest for self-fulfillment through meaningful work. Her quest involves themes of feminist independence and the search for moral and communal values. Strikingly, in the novel's first sentence Christie announces to her aunt "a new Declaration of Independence." Her personal independence seems to Christie a primary goal when she is an inexperienced young adult, but even then she possesses a budding feeling of outreach to others. She says that she will be satisfied if she can earn her living "honestly and happily," and leave a beautiful example behind" that will at least "help one other woman." The spirit of community is implicit at the outset of Christie's search. A "useful, happy woman" cannot exist alone.

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Christie's various work experiences teach moral lessons along with social duties. The first job, as a maid, introduces Christie to demeaning conditions and bad pay. She also learns humility and abolitionist sympathy from a fellow servant. When Christie moves on to become an actress, she finds the financial benefits do not compensate for the vanity the work insidiously fosters. Next, as a governess, Christie learns the emptiness of idle wealth and rejects a condescending proposal from her employer's indolent brother. The next job, companion to a mentally unbalanced young woman, teaches Christie the tragedy that can befall a family in which a mother's materialistic ambition reigns.

Then, as a seamstress, Christie opposes the firing of a "fallen" woman on account of her past, even though the woman was trying to rebuild her life through honest work. When support of her co-worker gets her fired too, the loss of a steady income plunges Christie, now near thirty, into suicidal despair. The episode powerfully crowns the developing theme of women frustrated by a society that prevents...

(The entire section contains 464 words.)

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